Liver cancer arises when healthy cells within the liver begin to develop and behave abnormally. While various factors can heighten an individual’s susceptibility to liver cancer, alcoholism, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are widely recognized as the primary causes of this disease. Based on global data, liver cancer ranks among the most common types of deadly malignant tumors. Although numerous treatment options exist, the prognosis and treatment approach for each patient ultimately depend on the specific type of tumor, the extent of cancer spread, the overall condition of the liver, and the individual’s general health.
Swelling in the Abdomen
Ascites, or abdominal swelling, is a telltale sign of liver cancer. This swelling results from a buildup of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, which happens when cancerous cells hinder the liver’s functionality. The abdominal swelling is typically noticeable from the outside. A physical examination of the abdomen can help determine if ascites is the cause of the distension, and an abdominal ultrasound can provide further confirmation of the diagnosis.
In the later stages of liver cancer, the liver or spleen might become enlarged, leading to an outward expansion in the respective areas and often making them sensitive to touch. You can notice an enlarged liver as a mass situated beneath the ribs on the right side of the body, while an enlarged spleen appears as a mass beneath the ribs on the left side.
Yellowing of Skin and Eyes (Jaundice)
Individuals suffering from liver cancer may experience jaundice, which is characterized by a yellowish tint on the skin and the whites of the eyes. This discoloration is a result of an excessive amount of a yellow-orange pigment called bilirubin in the blood. Typically, bilirubin is found in red blood cells, and when these cells die, the liver is responsible for filtering it out of the bloodstream and into the body’s waste disposal system. However, when a malignant tumor is present in the liver, its ability to effectively filter out bilirubin may become compromised, ultimately leading to the development of jaundice.
Pain in the Abdomen
Many liver cancer patients report experiencing mild to moderate pain in the upper abdominal area. This discomfort may be due to ascites, a condition where fluid builds up and puts pressure on the stomach lining when the abdomen becomes significantly distended. Additionally, an enlarged liver or spleen can compress the stomach, leading to pain. In many instances, this discomfort tends to arise or worsen after eating.
Loss of Appetite
Liver cancer often triggers a loss of appetite in many individuals. It’s common for both portion sizes and meal frequency to decrease without any clear explanation. Additionally, people may experience a sensation of fullness in their stomachs even after consuming the smallest meals. This diminished appetite not only serves as a symptom, but can also worsen other symptoms due to inadequate energy intake and nutrient deficiencies.
Changes in Bowel Movements
When the biliary system experiences drainage issues, it can lead to changes in the quality of stool. Liver tumors can compromise liver function, which in turn affects the release of bile salts. These salts, typically released by the liver, give bowel movements their normal color. When there’s a lack of bile salts, stool may appear pale, white, or chalky. While this can occasionally occur in healthy individuals, frequent recurrence of abnormal stool may serve as a potential warning sign of liver cancer.
Liver cancer can cause itching for a variety of reasons. Itching may result from cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, or from the cancer itself. Furthermore, a decrease in the body’s ability to remove toxins due to liver cancer may also cause itching. Medical professionals also link itching to an increased presence of bilirubin, a substance responsible for causing jaundice, in the system.
Liver tumors can often cause frequent bouts of nausea and vomiting, particularly after eating. This is because the liver plays a crucial role in digestion, and when it’s unable to perform its metabolic functions properly, gastrointestinal issues may arise.
Unexpected Weight Loss
As liver cancer progresses, individuals may experience a decrease in appetite while their body’s energy demands increase to produce malignant cells and combat the disease. This creates an imbalance between the body’s needs and its nutritional supply, resulting in rapid and unintentional weight loss over a period of a few months. Additionally, muscle loss commonly experienced by cancer patients can contribute to this weight loss. If you notice any sudden, unexplained weight loss, it’s crucial to seek medical evaluation to determine the cause.
Individuals suffering from liver cancer frequently experience persistent fatigue and weakness. This general feeling of malaise is a result of the body’s high energy consumption, as it tries to meet the demands of both the cancerous cells and the immune response fighting against them. When one’s diet fails to provide sufficient energy, fatigue ensues. Additionally, fatigue may be a consequence of anemia, which often develops in those with cancer. Cancer treatments can also contribute to fatigue, as the cancerous cells impact the bone marrow and lead to a decreased red blood cell count, or anemia.